Paul Cook Twists History in Attack on Desert Monuments

Representative Paul Cook published an opinion piece in the Desert Dispatch this week defending his recent request to slash monuments in the California desert.  His opinion piece is one of the first public  communications from his office r Harding President Trump's and Secretary of Interior's review of national monuments.  Up until now, Cook has only had private meetings and correspondence with select companies and the Secretary of Interior detailing his plan to cut the monuments down.  We only know about that because someone submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to force the Department of Interior to release Cook's correspondence.

Cook's letter ignores the years of public stakeholder conversation regarding management of our desert public lands, portraying the monuments as midnight decisions that came "out of thin air."  Cook's letter disingenuously characterizes the monuments as the result of "extreme environmental groups" and "backroom deals," even though public pressure has always tilted strongly toward protecting these lands from industrial exploitation.  Cook apparently does not remember early concern about the fate of our desert lands in the 1950s and 1960s that led to the designation of Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Monuments.  Nor does he remember our concern when hundreds of square miles of desert public lands (including some lands donated to the government for conservation purposes) were threatened by utility-scale renewable energy development as of 2009, prompting public demand for the lands to be protected.  The public enjoys exploring wild desert backcountry, not an industrial wasteland.

Cook denies that his proposal to slash the new monuments is driven by special interests, but the only interests the monument designation truly could cause trouble for are mining and energy companies, and Cadiz Inc's water export scheme. His own letter only provides specific mentions of one commercial concern being affected - a gold mine in the Castle Mountains that a Canadian company wants to open.  But that gold mine is not included in the monument.  It could start digging today if it wanted to.

I have visited Mojave Trails and Castle Mountains multiple times since they were designated as monuments. I drove my vehicle on open routes, camped in the desert, and enjoyed sunsets drawing shadows across an amazing landscape. The only thing that the monument designation changed is that I no longer have to worry about whether or not those lands will be bulldozed for a mine or solar project before the next time I visit.

This is what I don't want to see on public lands, and why we need national monuments.  Plenty of industries, including mining and energy, are eager to exploit and destroy public lands for their short term profits, leaving us with long-term damage.


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